I am or will be a student
Going off to college or university can be a great opportunity to get a taste of living independently, but how do you go about finding suitable accommodation?
What might you need to consider and where can you go for information, advice and support?
Choosing between the different types of student housing
Which? University and the National Union of Students have put together a useful list of pros and cons for each of the main housing options for students:
- University Halls
- Private Halls
- Private accommodation
- Living at Home
Certainly for your first year, university halls are a popular option with all students, including those with sight loss. They tend to be on or close to the campus so you should be able to get to lectures without needing to take a bus and they can be a good way of getting to know other students.
Tim (a young visually impaired adult who had tried out a number of different housing options while studying) told us:
‘Halls have people watching over them – like wardens or security guards or whatever – so they are quite well-governed. If anything happens or there are any problems, they will get solved.’
Universities generally prioritise students with disabilities when allocating places in halls, so make sure to give information about your access requirements when you apply. You should be prioritised for self-contained or en-suite accommodation if you feel you need this, however it is important to remember that this accommodation will be more expensive. Find out whether the university can subsidise this or whether you can claim Housing Benefit towards the costs (see Paying for housing below) – this was an issue for some students with sight loss in a recent study conducted by the Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research (VICTAR).
Contact the Disability Service and the Accommodation Officer at the university or college you hope to attend in good time to discuss your options. Although the primary focus of the Disability Service is around making sure the course is accessible to you, they can also advise you around accommodation, adaptations and mobility support.
Many universities have a web page on university accommodation for disabled students, for example:
Living outside of halls in private rented accommodation
Many students choose to move out into shared houses and flats after the first year. This may feel quite daunting to some people with sight loss but others you build confidence in travelling independently/ learn a new neighbourhood/ get some experience of sharing – what works and what doesn’t/ and develop deeper friendships.
In the following video, Jennie who has severe sight loss talks about her experience of finding a house off-campus for the second year of her course at the University of Birmingham:
This online directory gives a useful overview (under the ‘Where we Cover’ tab) of the different student areas in each of the main university cities, giving general information about public transport connections, proximity to pubs and takeaways and the campus. You can also search for different types of private rented accommodation in each of these cities. Unfortunately, you can’t filter for accessibility features, but you could, for example, search for a studio flat.
Paying for housing
Some disabled students will be eligible for Housing Benefit, though as a general rule of thumb, you will need to be on Employment Support Allowance or another disability benefit. Check here if you think you might be eligible: http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/how-we-can-help/individuals/education/frequently-asked-questions-students
If you are studying or planning to study in England, you can get further advice on this and other issues relating to support from the Disabled Students Helpline, either by calling the Freephone line: 0800 328 5050
Opening hours: 11am-1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays
Or by email: email@example.com
Tips for settling into your halls
The following tips are from students with sight loss who were interviewed as part of the VICTAR transitions study http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-social-sciences/education/victar/transitions-into-higher-education-2015.pdf
“Make sure the room is big enough and that you have got enough space at a desk. Don’t be afraid to ask for stuff like extra plug sockets, because I did – in my first year flat, I needed one, so I asked and I got it.”
If you can, move into halls early, before the rest of the students do – this gives you time to settle in, do some mobility training/ orientation or label things in the kitchen. However, this opportunity may not automatically be offered; you may need to ask. As one student reflected:
“I think I could have probably asked, and they would probably have said yes, but I didn’t. I think in a lot of ways, one thing I have realised is that most of the time you have to ask if you want something, or ask if it’s possible to have something, normally they don’t think to ask.”
RNIB also has an excellent web page on moving into student housing at:
Where do you want to go next?
- Guide Home Page
- I want to think about my options for a Future Move
- I am or will be a student
- I need information on living independently;
- I need information on the moving process;
- I am homeless or facing homelessness/eviction;
- I need to move urgently – I don’t feel safe where I am living now;
- My current home requires repairs or adaptations;
- Jargon Buster